Ray: A Longbow Muley--8 1/2 Years Old

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family's Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

Nov. 29: What is a trophy? Is it all about big racks and inches? Does the overall experience factor in? Do the people you shared the hunt with matter more than what wears your tags? It's an old cliche, but the trophy is truly in the eyes of the beholder.

Every summer, I sit down and set personal goals for my hunting season. One was to shoot a deer with my longbow.

The longbow was built by Mike Brattain in Raton, New Mexico, owner and bowyer at Double BB Bows. It's a beautiful three-piece, take-down longbow that measures 62-inches. It draws 48 pounds at 28 inches as smooth as any stickbow I own. Coupled with Gold Tip Pro Hunter 35/55 carbon shafts, fletched with three, five inch feathers and tipped with 2-bladed German Kinetics broadheads, it shoots sweet. Total arrow weight is 475 grains. Shooting that bow, I set a personal limitation of 20 yards max for a shot at a deer.

This year, my family's Panhandle ranch got three mule deer doe permits. I gave two of them to my teen-age nephews, then slipped the third one into my wallet, saving it for a special day. The family gathers at the ranch for Thanksgiving and that's when we would all try to fill our "buckless" tags. While there is no specific legal requirement on the size or age of the doe to take, personally, I wanted an old, mature doe. And I wanted to wait for one that did not have a fawn. Just my own personal tag requirement before I would let an arrow fly.

On November 27, I climbed into a well-concealed tripod stand, buried in the canopy of a thick cedar tree. That stand sits near a well-worn trail that funnels deer out of a brushy canyon. I always see deer at that spot, but few bucks. So I saved a hunt there for my longbow.

I was late to get on stand, dropping my nephew Will at his own sneaky spot. When I walked in at 4:15 p.m., I scattered five does and two small bucks. I figured I might have blown my chance, but kept walking and climbed aboard my hiding place any way.

It was 4:50 when a flash of mouse grey hide caught my eye, working up through the nearby canyon. It was a doe. I scanned the oak brush behind her, even waited a few minutes as she walked closer to my stand, making sure there was nothing small trailing her. There wasn't.

When she crossed my shooting lane at 12 yards, I eased the string to my cheek. I hesitated two seconds, keeping tension on the bent string, boring a hole through the exact spot I wanted to hit, then letting the string slip from my slick calf hair tab. The brightly fletched shaft hit solid in the chest.

I watched her trot down a dusty cow trail, then just as suddenly she tipped over. It was over in seconds and she barely made it 50 yards.

The real shocker was walking up on her. She was huge! I slid a finger in her mouth, felt for the back teeth to estimate age, and found a chasm where there should have been a back molar. Her teeth were worn smooth to the jawbone. Estimated age was 8 ½-years-old or older. Probably lots older.

I won't blow smoke and tell you that old doe taken with a simple longbow was more meaningful than a B&C buck, but I will say this. There's something very satisfying about setting goals and achieving them. And after years of shooting only compound bows, it was a refreshing change to shoot simple traditional tackle again. And taking an old, ancient nanny with a "girlish" 48 pound bow, that was special too. You don't need macho draw weight to kill deer clean. Don't let anyone tell you any different.

So what's a trophy? Each individual has to decide for themselves what will make a hunt meaningful. Is it a 160-inch buck? Or is it just spending time with friends and family outdoors? Or could even a simple doe be a lasting memory?

I'm proud of my "trophy" doe!